When the weather turns cold, NFL teams turn to the ground.
Traditionally. With expediency.
This past weekend’s May-like temperatures notwithstanding, it *will* get cold around here and if you’re playing the Eagles, running the ball might be the way to attack. We’ve said it for most of the season — the Eagles’ run defense is the potentially weak link for this 8-0 team.
The Eagles rank 20th in run defense. The rest of their defensive stats are outstanding — third in total defense, third in passing defense and fourth in points allowed.
You don’t have to be an MIT graduate to calculate that an opponent’s best shot might be running the ball against the Eagles.
Rushing numbers could trend even higher for opponents if they didn’t have to play catch-up so frequently. The Eagles have not trailed all season in the second half and have held double-digit leads in every game.
Generally, teams protecting leads don’t mind giving up 8-yard runs while trying to avoid 30-yard passes. Defenses tend to drop back more in coverage, leaving more space underneath, more room for runners to operate and increasing the likelihood of extra yards.
OPPONENTS ON THE RUN
The Eagles are allowing 121.4 yards per game on the ground. Houston’s Dameon Pierce gained 139 yards last Thursday, often slashing through the line and breaking multiple tackle attempts along the way.
In the season opener, Detroit’s D’Andre Swift ran for 144 yards. Dallas’ Zeke Elliott (81 yards) and Tony Pollard (44) moved the ball.
Other opponents didn’t have as much success running — Pittsburgh’s James Connor had 55 yards, the most from the other teams.
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said he wasn’t concerned about his team’s tackling, which was noticeably poor against Houston. Many times, the Eagles weren’t wrapping up runners, just trying to bring them down with the shoulder.
- “We’ll make sure we get back to work and fix it just like we did after the Detroit game,” Sirianni said.
- “Sometimes it’s a certain player that’s making you miss some tackles. That was a good back [Pierce]. We have to do a better job coaching.”
BETTER COACHING NEEDED?
The guy most responsible for “doing a better job coaching” is defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. He also didn’t publicly express concern about the sloppy tackling at a news conference Tuesday.
- “I believe in the players that we have, and when we’ve needed to make it an emphasis to improve that part of our game, we have,” Gannon said.
- “I think it’s really – there are points in certain games, in every game, and there are different times throughout the season, that’s just got to be on our mind, and we have to improve it and we have to coach it better.
- “It’s just consistency you’re looking for with everything, not just the tackling, with covering and execution and situational ball. It’s just being consistently sound and good at what we’re doing.”
Top draft pick Jordan Davis is on the injured reserve with an ankle injury and is not eligible to return until Dec. 4 against Tennessee. The defensive tackle has improved throughout the season.
“Anytime you have a player of Jordan’s caliber, how he is against the run, and you’re without him, of course that makes you not quite as good against the run,” Sirianni said.
TOUGH LINEUP UPCOMING
The Eagles still have to face potential Pro Bowlers in the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor; the Giants’ Saquon Barkley, twice; the Cowboys’ Elliott and Pollard; the league’s leading rusher in the Titans’ Derrick Henry; and the Packers’ Aaron Jones.
“If the team is trying to pound you, you want to get another [player] in the box,” Gannon said.
“You make sure that you’re not checkmated by the number count. With saying that, there’s some give and take to that, too, in the pass game.”
- Sirianni said: “We’re confident in the guys that are there. We’ve always felt like that was a pretty deep room with Javon [Hargrave] and Fletch [Cox] and Marlon [Tuipulotu] and Milton [Williams], and then obviously Jordan.
- “Then Marvin [Wilson] off the practice squad. Yeah, we’re confident there. We were excited to see Marvin play and get some good reps in there, and so yeah, we’re confident in that group.
- “I know they’ll continue to get better, and the young guys will continue to get better for sure as they see more playing time.”
STRONG OVERALL DEFENSE
While the Eagles struggle against the run, the rest of their defense is among the league’s best. They are tied for fifth in sacks with 26. They had 29 sacks *all of last season*.
The Eagles have a league-leading 12 interceptions. They had 12 interceptions *all of last season*.
When opponents create game plans to attack the Eagles’ defense, they probably start with how to move the ball on the ground and how to keep the defense away from the quarterback.
Expect the Eagles to get tested. Opponents will pore over game tape and see where they think they can exploit the league’s only undefeated team.
Expect game plans drawn up that feature simple and complex running plays. Opponents are going to run the ball until the Eagles prove they can stop them.